Author’s Note: I’m breaking with our traditional review format today, so this will be a review that integrates the gameplay description with my thoughts on the expansion. Also, for the uninitiated, today is the second day of Everdell Week, a project I’m doing to commemorate the changing seasons. This review is based on a review copy from the publisher.
When Everdell’s first expansion, Pearlbook, went on Kickstarter in September 2018, it was an instant success, earning 8,012 backers and more than $609,000. Though today it is the lowest-rated of the expansions on BGG (with what is still a sky-high rating of 7.79 out of 10.00), I don’t understand why, because it is my favorite of the three Everdell expansions. To me, Pearlbrook best accentuates the gameplay I love in the base game, and it feels like a seamless addition to base Everdell.
Pearlbrook is about a “mysterious civilization of waterfolk,” and you send your amphibious ambassador — a frog meeple — to interact with them. This expansion may not change the base game much, but it does add a few different in-game mechanics and some cool new components.
At the outset, it is worth noting that it has a few extras that make your base game better, such as a scorepad and 3D “open/closed” signs to place on worker spots in players’ cities. The game also comes with four new sets of workers — the platypi, axolotls, otters, and starlings — that can be used with the base game.
If you saw pearlbrook on the table, the first thing you’d notice would probably be the new river board, which sits to the left of the original one. (It is pictured prominently in the above photo.). There are five spaces on the river board, and to use any of them, you have to use your frog ambassador (each player has one in their color). The topmost space allows you to discard two cards and two goods to earn a pearl.
The four spaces below have destination cards, and you can only play there if you have certain cards already in your city, sort of like the “basic events” from the base game. The first player to go to each space earns a pearl, flips over the river destination card, and then immediately has the option to complete it. These cards give you certain advantages, such as victory points and more pearls. When players change seasons and pull back their workers, they also pull back their ambassador, opening up the river destination places for future play.
At this point, you’re probably curious about those pearls, which are shiny (and beautiful) 3D sculpts. Pearls are worth two points at the end of the game, but they also have other uses, and in my plays, not many pearls have made it to final scoring.
Their biggest use is on wonders — the “basic events” are not used in Pearlbrook and, via some board overlays, are instead replaced with these 3D cardboard structures. The wonders are worth 10, 15, 20, or 25 points, and only wonder can only be earned by one player. To get them, players have to place a worker and trade in a number of pearls and resources. This new element ramps up the interactivity quite nicely, because now, rather than just competing for basic events (which weren’t worth that many points), players compete for the wonders (which are worth a significant amount of points).
The pearls are also used for adornment cards. Each player receives two at the start of the game, and they can play them for one pearl each. The adornment cards give a variety of different in-game bonuses and scoring bonuses. For example, the Gilded Book gives you resources equal to the cost of Governance cards in your city, and you get 1 point at the end of the game for each Governance card. To me, these basically introduce asymmetric play, since they tend to be powerful enough to guide a player’s strategy.
Beyond that, Pearlbrook adds 6 more events, 4 more forest spaces, and 20 additional critter and construction cards, adding more variety to gameplay. The new critter and construction cards are shuffled with the deck, and they interact not only with the base game cards, but with each other as well.
I’ve always said a good expansion highlights my favorite parts of the base game, and Pearlbrook does that. This isn’t that much more burdensome to teach — I’d say you can explain it to experienced Everdell players in 2 minutes — and it adds some intriguing aspects.
Pearlbrook does add some extra time to the base game — there are simply more actions to take now that you have an extra ambassador on your side — but I welcome the increased strategy that comes from the adornment cards and the river board. Though it can be frustrating to not know what is in each river destination space — the first player to go there uncovers it — it does add a bit of mystery to the game, and players never hesitate to go there because earning the pearl is itself a nice reward.
I like Pearlbrook so much that I have moved it into the base game box and have started teaching new players with it included.
Overall, I’m highly impressed. This expansion keeps the best parts of Everdell — the engaging gameplay and the stunning production value — and introduces a few well-integrated parts.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it! Chris Wray
- I like it.
- Not for me…